Wednesday, September 14, 2011

I went to a lecture about the Golem legend (and I didn't ask a question)

Never Done: I went to a lecture about the Golem legend (and I didn't ask a question)

When I met my writing partner Steve, he was working on a great screenplay -- an urban teenage golem story. A golem is a figure in Jewish mythology -- an animated creature made from clay, that is often used for protection. Also when we met, I was working on a vampire jazz romantic comedy. We were fast friends. First we rewrote my screenplay, and then we rewrote his. Or maybe it was the other way around. In any event, we made each others' work better, and that's why we still write together. (We haven't sold the golem script yet, but we should. It's our best work, and someone should make that movie.)

A couple weeks ago, Josh saw that there was a lecture on the golem legend at the YIVO Institute for Jewish Research and let us know. We made a plan to meet for dinner first, to do some screenplay business (about which I've been negligent since I started my JCC job.) The lecture turned out to be great. The lecturer, Curt Leviant -- a Jewish studies scholar, novelist, and Yiddish translator -- had a wonderful mastery of his lecture, and especially of his Q and A session. He did a great job of both being the expert and also making us realize how much we already knew, and leading us up to the point at which he knew more than us, so that we would welcome him to step through the door and tell us all about it. I was mostly thinking about what he was talking about, but a little bit I was thinking about how he did this -- and what it might mean, from a mussar point of view, to be a good teacher and to remove ego as much as possible, and to think about the burden of the other -- the other being the people listening to you.

I really started thinking about the burden of the other when we got to the Q & A session. Just the other day I read this NY Times piece about how to ask a good question at a public event. (1. There is no such thing as a two-part question. 2. If you have a genuine sense of curiosity, you're probably on a good track. 3. If you feel a sense of pride in yourself for thinking of your question, it's probably better to let someone else have the mic.) I had a burning sense of curiosity. I had a real question that I wanted to know the answer to. I didn't feel rushed, just curious. Eventually someone passed me the mic. But then all sorts of other people got called on before me, and by the time I could have stood up or spoken up, I decided that even though I was genuinely interested to know what Leviant would say to answer my question, I didn't feel the level of drive I would have needed to muscle my way into the public space. And when I handed the microphone over to someone else, and they used the time to grab attention to themselves, I knew I had made the right decision -- because even though the answer would have been interesting to me, I'm not sure it would have been all that interesting to other people.

There is a mide (middah) of Silence: Reflect before speaking. Maybe I'll write a comment on the NY Times online page of the story on public questions. But, um, I will have to reflect carefully before I do.

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